Troubled Generations? An Oral History of Youth Experience of the Conflict in Belfast, 1969-1998

  • Lucy Newby

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis is an oral history of youth experience in Belfast during the Northern Ireland Conflict,
    1969-1998. The focus of the thesis is on two key areas. Firstly, it historically interrogates the
    experiences of children and young people in Belfast during the years of the ‘Troubles’. Secondly,
    it critically explores the ways in which those who grew up in the violently disrupted environment
    of the city have since reflected upon and made sense of their experiences in the ‘post-conflict’
    era. This dual focus upon youth conflict experience and its legacies in the present provides a
    means of contributing to—and challenging the limits of—current scholarly debates within the
    fields of cultural memory and post-conflict studies in Northern Ireland, as well as engaging with
    emergent themes in the fields of childhood studies, historical justice and critical oral history
    theory and practice.

    Through a close analysis of nine oral history narratives, this thesis reconsiders the ways in which
    children and young people living in regions to the north and west of Belfast that were heavily
    affected by the conflict experienced their everyday lives during the years of armed violence.
    Significantly, it challenges the dominant interpretation of the young as members of ‘troubled
    generations’; transformed by the presence of violence into tragic victims or destabilised
    combatants. Drawing on the critical oral history methodologies of Alessandro Portelli, Alistair
    Thomson, Penny Summerfield and Graham Dawson, it considers the circulation of such
    categories in popular memory culture, proposing an engagement with this culture as a dynamics
    of power, or hierarchy of speakability and hearability, which works to de-limit the articulation
    of more complex, unfixed or uncertain narratives of the conflict and its impacts.

    To recognise that such a hierarchy of speakability and hearability exists is also to recognise that
    new techniques are needed in order to create space for the articulation of more intricate or
    ambivalent narratives of conflict. This thesis proposes that we move beyond the effort to elicit
    the fully-formed counter-narrative in critical oral history and instead focus on those fugitive and
    sometimes fleeting moments of narrative defiance, which trouble and contest dominant
    representations of the ‘troubled generations’, testing their limits and tearing at their edges. By
    focusing on moments of narrative defiance within the interviews, the thesis expands the field
    of possible methodologies for interpreting the ways in which individuals subjectively articulate
    their experiences of conflict as children and young people. It offers new insights into the impacts
    of conflict on everyday youthful life in Belfast, and the dynamics of post-conflict memory in
    the present.
    Date of AwardAug 2020
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorEugene Michail (Supervisor) & Graham Dawson (Supervisor)


    • Oral History
    • Children
    • Teenagers
    • Youth
    • Northern Ireland
    • Everyday Life

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